Deaths in Bakassi: Nigerians in ceded territory accuse Cameroun of breaching pact

Mid March 2013, over 2,000 Nigerians who have accepted their fate and changed their nationality in obedience to the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun were attacked and ejected, causing them to return to Nigeria as refugees.

The attack on Efut Obot Ikot village and other adjoining settlements, which left five people dead and  17 others missing and 1,900 displaced, according to Chief Etim Asuquo, came in the wake of a misunderstanding between the people and the Cameroonian authorities over fishing rights and tax payments.

While the Cameroonian authorities alleged that the Nigerians are defaulting in tax payments and are fishing beyond the lines allocated to them on the high seas, the Nigerians, who are mostly of Akwa Ibom State origin, said Cameroon was over taxing them and unilaterally imposed a demarcation line on which they, who are of Nigerian origin, should not fish beyond, an act, which, according to them, contravenes the Green Tree Agreement signed between Nigeria and Cameroon before the final handing over of the territory.

“The Green Tree Agreement, in Article Three, clearly states that Nigerians wishing to remain in their native land, which was handed over to Cameroun, should be protected and allowed to practice their traditional occupation which is farming and fishing without molestation, but we are not allowed to fish beyond the point which the Cameroonian authorities have placed a stick in the sea as the demarcation point,’ Prince Aston Joseph, the Nigerian Liaison Officer to Cameroun, said.

He said that, regularly, the Cameroonian Gendarmes undermine the livelihood of the Nigerians by destroying or confiscating their fishing boats and nets on the high seas claiming they have over exploited the fish stock or have fished beyond the lines allocated to them. “Over thirty fishing boats belonging to our people have been confiscated or destroyed by the Cameroonian authorities on the pretext that they have fished beyond the demarcated point”.

*Displaced …where else do we go?. Inset: Senator Ita-Giwa
The Liaison Officer said the Green Tree Accord did not specify any limits to which the Nigerians in Cameroon should confine themselves to fishing since the international maritime boundary between the two nations are yet to be officially demarcated . “You cannot find crayfish in the creeks but in the sea, so each time our people go out to the high seas to fish, they are accused of having gone beyond the specified limits and attacked”.

This frosty relationship between the Cameroonian authorities and the Nigerians once again led to the attack on the village and ejection of the people.  There were also alleged deaths with many arrested and taken to the provincial capital on the claim that they were militants.

Those who fled moved through the forest for several days to the Akwayefe river and were carried across to Akpabuyo where they were given temporary camp at  St Mark Primary School, Eyo Edem, Akpabuyo by the Cross River State government.

Senator Florence Ita Giwa, who visited the refugee camp, which has witnessed three births on Tuesday, to donate relief materials, said the people were living under  a deplorable condition and appealed for immediate assistance from organisations and kind-hearted individuals.

“ I cannot believe what the Gendarmes did to our people. Many of the women cannot find their husbands, many children cannot find their mothers; we have counted 17 people who are still missing”,  Ita Giwa said.

She said the international community had not been fair to the Bakassi people whom she said did not cause the situation they  found themselves but their heeding to the call by the Nigerian government which obeyed the International Court of Justice ruling that they should remain in their ancestral land and signed “The Green Tree Agreement with Cameroon that the people can remain in their native land and engage in their traditional occupation which is farming and fishing but our Cameroonian brothers have not respected that Agreement and are daily attacking and killing our people and the international community is keeping quiet”.

The senator said what the people need to end the constant harassment and attack by their host country is to be resettled in the Day Spring Island which they have indentified and are willing to live and continue their occupation there. “Our people do not want to go back to Cameroun but want to be resettled in the Day Spring Island and, in the next two weeks, something has to be done because, very soon this school where they are camped would resume and the people would not have where to stay “.

Ita Giwa said she had to respond immediately to bring relief materials to the refugees so that they would not fall prey to diseases as the situation in the camp was very deplorable. “As I talk to you now, there is now single drop of water for the people to drink and none for bathing, so I had to call on the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency to bring some relief material like drugs, food items, blankets and mattresses for the people to use”.

She said the item donated are grossly inadequate to cater for the large numbers of displaced people particularly the children who are venerable todiseases like pneumonia and appealed for more drugs, food items and clothing materials to aid the people in this time of need while awaiting their resettlement at the DaySpring Island.

The senator revealed that President Goodluck Jonathan had shown some concern by setting up a Committee on the Plight of the Bakassi People which she is a member of, saying the committee had met several times and “formed subcommittees to collate reports from the people”, she added:  “Very  soon, we shall meet to fine-tune the reports and work out the demographics and logistics”.

The Chairman of Bakassi LGA, Dr Eyo Ekpo, said over 600 children had been exposed to diseases and infections and called on the international community to come to the aid of the people. “When we saw the thousands of people displaced, we were bothered most particularly with the over six hundred children who could fall sick considering the poor state of living in the camp”.

Ekpo said the council had to take immediate steps to forestall deaths and outbreak of disease by supplying relief materials to the displaced people.”There is very little our effort can achieve considering the enormity of the situation that is why we are appealing for more help”, he said. “We brought in drugs, food and mattresses but that is grossly inadequate; so we are appealing to the international community to assist considering the scale of need of these people”.

The attack on Efut Obot Ikot village and other adjoining settlements, which left five people dead and  17 others missing and 1,900 displaced, according to Chief Etim Asuquo, came in the wake of a misunderstanding between the people and the Cameroonian authorities over fishing rights and tax payments.

While the Cameroonian authorities alleged that the Nigerians are defaulting in tax payments and are fishing beyond the lines allocated to them on the high seas, the Nigerians, who are mostly of Akwa Ibom State origin, said Cameroon was over taxing them and unilaterally imposed a demarcation line on which they, who are of Nigerian origin, should not fish beyond, an act, which, according to them, contravenes the Green Tree Agreement signed between Nigeria and Cameroon before the final handing over of the territory.

“The Green Tree Agreement, in Article Three, clearly states that Nigerians wishing to remain in their native land, which was handed over to Cameroun, should be protected and allowed to practice their traditional occupation which is farming and fishing without molestation, but we are not allowed to fish beyond the point which the Cameroonian authorities have placed a stick in the sea as the demarcation point,’ Prince Aston Joseph, the Nigerian Liaison Officer to Cameroun, said.

He said that, regularly, the Cameroonian Gendarmes undermine the livelihood of the Nigerians by destroying or confiscating their fishing boats and nets on the high seas claiming they have over exploited the fish stock or have fished beyond the lines allocated to them. “Over thirty fishing boats belonging to our people have been confiscated or destroyed by the Cameroonian authorities on the pretext that they have fished beyond the demarcated point”.

The Liaison Officer said the Green Tree Accord did not specify any limits to which the Nigerians in Cameroon should confine themselves to fishing since the international maritime boundary between the two nations are yet to be officially demarcated . “You cannot find crayfish in the creeks but in the sea, so each time our people go out to the high seas to fish, they are accused of having gone beyond the specified limits and attacked”.

This frosty relationship between the Cameroonian authorities and the Nigerians once again led to the attack on the village and ejection of the people.  There were also alleged deaths with many arrested and taken to the provincial capital on the claim that they were militants.

Those who fled moved through the forest for several days to the Akwayefe river and were carried across to Akpabuyo where they were given temporary camp at  St Mark Primary School, Eyo Edem, Akpabuyo by the Cross River State government.

Senator Florence Ita Giwa, who visited the refugee camp, which has witnessed three births on Tuesday, to donate relief materials, said the people were living under  a deplorable condition and appealed for immediate assistance from organisations and kind-hearted individuals.

“ I cannot believe what the Gendarmes did to our people. Many of the women cannot find their husbands, many children cannot find their mothers; we have counted 17 people who are still missing”,  Ita Giwa said.

She said the international community had not been fair to the Bakassi people whom she said did not cause the situation they  found themselves but their heeding to the call by the Nigerian government which obeyed the International Court of Justice ruling that they should remain in their ancestral land and signed “The Green Tree Agreement with Cameroon that the people can remain in their native land and engage in their traditional occupation which is farming and fishing but our Cameroonian brothers have not respected that Agreement and are daily attacking and killing our people and the international community is keeping quiet”.

The senator said what the people need to end the constant harassment and attack by their host country is to be resettled in the Day Spring Island which they have indentified and are willing to live and continue their occupation there. “Our people do not want to go back to Cameroun but want to be resettled in the Day Spring Island and, in the next two weeks, something has to be done because, very soon this school where they are camped would resume and the people would not have where to stay “.

Ita Giwa said she had to respond immediately to bring relief materials to the refugees so that they would not fall prey to diseases as the situation in the camp was very deplorable. “As I talk to you now, there is now single drop of water for the people to drink and none for bathing, so I had to call on the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency to bring some relief material like drugs, food items, blankets and mattresses for the people to use”.

She said the item donated are grossly inadequate to cater for the large numbers of displaced people particularly the children who are venerable todiseases like pneumonia and appealed for more drugs, food items and clothing materials to aid the people in this time of need while awaiting their resettlement at the DaySpring Island.

The senator revealed that President Goodluck Jonathan had shown some concern by setting up a Committee on the Plight of the Bakassi People which she is a member of, saying the committee had met several times and “formed subcommittees to collate reports from the people”, she added:  “Very  soon, we shall meet to fine-tune the reports and work out the demographics and logistics”.

The Chairman of Bakassi LGA, Dr Eyo Ekpo, said over 600 children had been exposed to diseases and infections and called on the international community to come to the aid of the people. “When we saw the thousands of people displaced, we were bothered most particularly with the over six hundred children who could fall sick considering the poor state of living in the camp”.

Ekpo said the council had to take immediate steps to forestall deaths and outbreak of disease by supplying relief materials to the displaced people.”There is very little our effort can achieve considering the enormity of the situation that is why we are appealing for more help”, he said. “We brought in drugs, food and mattresses but that is grossly inadequate; so we are appealing to the international community to assist considering the scale of need of these people”.

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